Customs' ACE on the right track

"Automated Commercial Environment Progressing, but Further Acquisition Management Improvements needed"

The Customs Service's expenditure plan for the Automated Commercial Environment meets capital planning and acquisition requirements, according to a report from the General Accounting Office. But the agency still has some management issues to tackle.

Although Customs' ACE plan is progressing, the agency failed to map out how it will meet goals outlined in the workforce strategy, and it will be more than a year before the Customs Modernization Office implements the plan.

"GAO has made a number of recommendations, which Customs is currently addressing," the report stated. "However, Customs has been slow to correct weaknesses in two areas fundamental to effective acquisition management—people and processes."

Customs' expenditure plan, released in November 2002, requested $314 million for the ACE project. It was the fourth in a series in which GAO has made several recommendations, and Custom's plan follows these guidelines.

According to the report, Customs' plan meets the Office of Management and Budget's capital planning requirements, fits into Customs' enterprise architecture and follows federal acquisition guidelines.

The plan is also consistent with GAO's recommendations for the project. A few of those recommendations are:

* Justify and make investment decisions incrementally.

* Develop and implement a cost estimating program.

* Develop and implement process controls for software acquisition.

* Develop a workforce strategy for the Customs Modernization Office.

"While Customs has taken actions to address each of these recommendations, its actions to develop and implement a human capital strategy and acquisition management process controls were only partially consistent," the report stated. The agency has a plan, but "there are some notable omissions, including how these commitments will be met."

GAO recommended that Customs officials make managing the workforce a priority. They also suggested that the chief information officer develop and deploy the missing workforce management practices outlined in the report and establish a verification and validation function to oversee contractor efforts.

With Customs' move to the Homeland Security Department, ACE may be used by several other agencies. Future plans should address the possibility of expanding the ACE infrastructure. This expansion could affect the cost and schedule of ACE, the report said.

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